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Goldberg's variations

The jazz pianist, comfortable in any combo, resumes his vibrant trio

Over the past decade, pianist Aaron Goldberg has maintained one of jazz's most delectable trios.

Featuring the swinging bassist Reuben Rogers and the capaciously inventive drummer Eric Harland, the ensemble has forged a singular sound with an expansive textural palette and a repertoire deeply informed by Brazil's finest composers.

There's only one problem.

``Everyone steals my band," says Goldberg, 32, from his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, half in jest and entirely proud. ``First, Charles Lloyd hired them, then Geri Allen and then Joshua Redman stole my band. But actually I'm just loaning them out."

The Boston native brings his superlative group to the Regattabar on Tuesday to celebrate the release of ``Worlds" (Sunnyside), the pianist's first album as a leader in five years. With Brazilian singer Luciana Souza and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel each contributing to one track, it's a gorgeous session that makes a compelling case for Goldberg's ensemble as one of the era's definitive piano trios.

Receiving due recognition will make it easier for Goldberg to keep the group working, but it's unlikely to prevent other bandleaders from raiding his combo. Rogers freelances widely in addition to his on going gigs with Lloyd and vocalist Dianne Reeves, and Harland is constantly on the move playing with Rosenwinkel, Lloyd, McCoy Tyner, and saxophonist Redman and the SFJAZZ Collective.

SAMPLE AARON GOLDBERG Check out audio clips at

The pianist himself is a highly sought-after accompanist who's employed by an unusually broad range of bandleaders, from the tradition-minded Wynton Marsalis to Rosenwinkel and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, two players who have developed not just original voices but entire harmonic vocabularies.

Goldberg is well on his way to creating a similarly comprehensive sound. The pianist made an impressive debut as a leader in 1999 with ``Turning Point," and introduced the trio two years later on ``Unfolding" (both on J Curve). The concept behind ``Worlds" was to showcase the trio's exponential leap as an ensemble with a tenaciously intuitive approach to shaping material on the bandstand.

The trio's most immediately identifiable influence stems from Goldberg's love of Brazilian music. A devoted student of the country's culture, Goldberg has studied Portuguese and the music of bossa nova and Brazilian pop masters such as Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, and particularly singer/songwriter Djavan.

``I fell in love with a lot of Brazilian music, and it started to influence my own writing," Goldberg says. ``But I knew I wasn't interested in making a crossover or fusion album. I was interested in taking material from everywhere, material that I fell in love with, and interpreting it as a jazz trio.

``There really wasn't much thought put into arrangements," he adds. ``Almost everything happened organically through the course of exploring on gigs."

Raised in Brookline, Goldberg attended Milton Academy. Before he graduated at the age of 17 he had already formed relationships with revered jazz artists such as Jerry Bergonzi and Hal Crook. In 1991, he spent a year studying jazz at the New School University, which gave him a solid foothold in the Gotham jazz scene.

While he decided to return to Boston to attend Harvard, eventually graduating magna cum laude in 1996 with a degree in history and science, Goldberg continued his jazz education on the bandstand.

A long-running weekend gig made Wally's Cafe his Boston home base, though he spent summers in New York building relationships with his most advanced peers. Veterans took notice too, most important the legendary vocalist and talent scout Betty Carter, who recruited him as a founding member of her Jazz Ahead program.

Settling in New York after graduating from Harvard, Goldberg worked steadily, often collaborating with players seeking to combine jazz with other musical traditions, such as the wildly inventive Argentine pianist/composer Guillermo Klein and Israeli tenor saxophonist Eli Degibri.

No gig did more to enhance his reputation than his four-year stint with Redman, which included two Warner Bros. recordings, 2001's ``Beyond" and 2002's ambitious album-length suite ``Passage of Time."

The trio with Rogers and Harland has been Goldberg's primary vehicle as a leader, but the pianist emphasizes that he sees the group as a collective, which is probably why he's been able to keep it together for so long.

For Harland, whose overwhelming technique, dynamic control , and spiritual commitment set him apart from his generation's profusion of remarkable drummers, the trio's creative freedom makes it an ideal situation.

``Aaron's one of the most swinging pianists playing today," says Harland by cell phone while heading to a Kurt Rosenwinkel gig with Goldberg. ``He's a very well-rounded musician. `Worlds' displays that, how he's really into Brazilian music. He really lives it, and he knows the language.

``He's always been a wonderful piano player, but now people get a chance to hear what we've been hearing all of these years."

Aaron Goldberg Trio performs Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Regattabar, One

Bennett St., Cambridge. Tickets $18; 617-395-7757,

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